This, guys. This is exactly why we’re lucky arachnids aren’t as big as we are. Meet the spitting spider (Scythes thoracica), an animal that can shoot venomous, glue-coated silk out of a mouth-cannon so powerful it fires at speeds never before observed in a living creature. And you thought your Super Soaker was cool…
The GIFs in this post feature scenes from the National Geographic Channel documentary, “Super Spider,” in which biologist Dr Robbert B Suter explains the ins and outs of the animals’ amazing abilities. Unlike most spiders which hunt using stationary webs, Scythes spiders rely on an extra silk duct, located near the head, which stores ammo for projectile warfare. When it’s time to launch an attack, a combination of venom, silk, and glue are pumped through the spiders’ reduced fangs, which oscillate at a whopping 1,000 times per second to help propel the sticky secretion through the air.
“That kind of motion can’t be controlled by muscles, at least not directly,” says Suter. “Because muscles can’t contract that fast. It rather could be caused by the fluid shooting out very fast. This is exactly what happens when you have a hose and turn the water on. If you’re not holding the end, it whips back and forth.”
These spiders are opportunistic hunters, and will guzzle down just about anything they can subdue with their powerful blasts, including other spiders. The side-to-side motion also forces the silky goo into a crisscrossing pattern which instantly pins prey to the nearest surface – Parker style.
“The spit itself also has a unique property,” adds Suter who, along with his colleagues, managed to film the spiders’ ejections in highspeed during a 2009 study. The footage revealed that after the silky mixture left the fangs, it condensed by 40-60 percent. “It’s contractile.” What this means is that the spiders’ prey will not only be temporarily stunned by the blast, which can reach velocities of 28 meters per second (roughly 62 miles per hour), but also quite literally be shrink-wrapped for convenience.
Before you fly into an arachnophobia-fueled spazzout, you should know that these cosmopolitan spiders are harmless to humans. In fact, you’ve probably encountered them before. In North America, they’re found almost exclusively in and around homes.
IMAGES: National Geographic Channel, Robert B. Suter/ Gail E. Stratton